Despite what Dolly Parton says, less really can be more. Maybe not when it comes to bling, but if you’re talking about Extra Virgin Olive Oil, then less does mean more. Less, as in less acid, equals more taste, more fragrance, more health benefits.
In other words, I’m talking about extra virgin olive oil, that liquid gold that takes a big chunk of my grocery money. Unlike most things though, it’s really worth what you pay.
Extra virgin olive oil comes from cold processing, not necessarily cold press since many of the producers now use centrifuges to obtain the oil. The big deal though is that according to the grading scale and standards followed by the International Olive Oil Council that most major olive oil producers observe, extra virgin olive oil must be between 0 and .8% acidity. Of course, zero is an impossibility. Most quality extra virgin olive oils are .8%. Some estate oils may be .6%, and there are some rare extra virgin olive oils that are .4%. That would be like the champagne of olive oils I guess and might just cost the same as a magnum of the sparkly stuff.
It’s not enough for the olive oil producer to say they follow the standards. They have to put it into practice. They can’t treat the olives in any way other than washing. The oil is always extracted by a cold process, either centrifugal or percolation, or pressed, using a hydraulic press process.
Producers are checked. Oil is tested. An extra virgin olive oil has to pass chemical tests, including one that checks maximum acidity. There can’t be any defects with the taste which is taste-tested by certified olive oil experts. The governments of the twenty-three major oil-producing countries take this very seriously.
These rigorous standards guarantee quality. The end result is extra virgin olive oil that’s considered the best–best fragrance, best taste, best health benefits. Particular and rigorous attention have been paid to variety, growing, picking, and releasing the oil, even to bottling it as soon as its pressed.
The color can be the lightest gold to bright green to a darker greenish-gold. Usually, the deeper the color, the more intense the flavor. Sure there can be light extra virgin olive oil. You’ve probably seen some in the supermarket. It has the same beneficial fats as regular olive oil. But light doesn’t mean less calories. It’s got the same as all oils and fats. Light refers to the filtration process.
Light extra virgin olive oil has much less fragrance and much less taste. In fact, it’s rather bland. So it’s useful for cooking and baking where you don’t want the flavor of the oil to compete with the food product. But stick with a good extra virgin if you want the flavor of the oil to be an aspect of the taste of what you prepare.
Less than 10% of the oil produced is extra virgin, another reason why it commands a higher price, but, trust me on this, EVOO is what you want for dipping oil or to use with a good balsamic vinegar to dress a salad. Have you ever tried some really good ravioli served in a small pool of EVOO? To die for! Or brush some on bread and toast under the broiler for a few seconds. Or use on a baked potato. Yummy.
Price is usually a good indicator what of you get. Less acidity means higher cost, but the precious liquid gold is worth it. This kind of gold is something anyone can afford.
Liquid gold. Hmmm. I think I’m going to get some bottles of my favorite EVOO to give as Christmas presents.